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324                                                                                                     B. POLEVOI

Meresyev turned to face the enemy.
The "Lavochkin-5" and the "Fokke-Wolf-190" were
fast planes. They approached each other at lightning speed,
Alexei Meresyev and the unknown German ace of the
famous Richthofen Division charged each other head on.
A head-on attack lasts an instant, even less than what
it takes an experienced smoker to light a cigarette. But
that instant creates such a nervous strain, puts all the air-
man's nerves to such a test as a fighter on the ground
is not subjected to even in the course of a whole day's
battle.
Picture yourself in one of the two fast fighters charging
at each other at full combat speed. The enemy plane
grows in size before your very eyes. Suddenly it con-
fronts you in all its details: wings, the glistening circle
of the revolving propeller, the black dots that are its
guns. In another instant the planes will collide and split
into so many fragments that it will be impossible to sort
the remains of the pilot from the remains of the machine.
Not only the pilot's will-power, but also all his moral
fibre, is put to the test in that instant. The weak-nerved
will not stand the strain. A man not prepared to die for
the sake of victory will instinctively pull the stick and
leap over the deadly hurricane sweeping towards him;
and in the next instant his machine will be hurtling to
the ground with a ripped underside or a hacked-off wing.
Nothing can save him. Experienced airmen know this
perfectly well, and only the bravest dare to make a head-
on attack.
The planes tore through the air.
Alexei was aware that the man coming against him
was not a greenhorn from the Goering enrolment, hastily
trained to fill the gaps that had been formed in the
German Air Force by the heavy casualties on the Eastern
Front. He was an ace of the Richthofen Division, in a
machine that no doubt had depicted on its sides the sil-
houettes of planes recording many a victory in the air.
He would not falter, he would not swerve, he would not
avoid battle.